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Saturday 30 August 2014

North Korea fires two missiles off east coast

Published 02/07/2014 | 06:50

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North Korea has fired two short-range projectiles into waters off its east coast, South Korean officials said, on the eve of Chinese president Xi Jinping's talks in Seoul expected to focus on the North's nuclear weapons programme.

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The launches, the third in a week, were believed to be a message that the North is boosting its defences and expressing its displeasure that Mr Xi will become the first Chinese leader to visit rival South Korea before the North.

The projectiles, with a range of 110 miles, were fired from the eastern coastal city of Wonsan and landed harmlessly in the sea, South Korean defence officials said.

The North also fired three short-range projectiles last Thursday and two short-range missiles again on Sunday, both into waters off the east coast, according to Seoul's Defence Ministry. The North's state media later said that leader Kim Jong Un had guided firing of missiles in a likely reference to those specific launches.

The launches sent a message that North Korea does not want anyone meddling in its building up nuclear and other defence capabilities, said Chang Yong Seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies. North Korea "must be feeling bad" about Mr Xi's trip to South Korea, he said.

Mr Xi and South Korean president Park Geun-hye are scheduled to hold their fifth meeting since Ms Park took office in 2012. The Chinese leader has not yet met Mr Kim since the young North Korean leader took power in 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

China is North Korea's long-time ally and main aid provider, but Beijing was angered when Pyongyang ramped up tensions last year with its third nuclear tests and a torrent of threats of nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington. China has supported tightening of UN sanctions and cracked down on North Korean banking activity.

The new launch came a day after South Korea rejected a set of proposals by North Korea that it said would reduce tensions, including the cancellation of annual drills between Seoul and Washington. Seoul officials said the North must first demonstrate that it is serious about nuclear disarmament if it wants peace.

North Korea's powerful National Defence Commission called for the drills to be scrapped, calling them a rehearsal for invasion. It also suggested that the two Koreas halt hostile military acts against each other at border areas and stop psychological warfare. South Korea and the US have repeatedly denied that they want to invade the North.

The Korean peninsula officially remains in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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